How World eX is leading the charge in sustainability revolution

Motorsport is facing a challenge in the years to come to both survive and thrive. It is no secret that racing has a big carbon footprint and we are slowly but inevitably going to have to adapt or die – and it’s safe to say that none of us want the latter.

We are seeing F1 begin its transition to biofuels and many alternative energy methods are being tested like electric cars either powered by batteries or fuel-cells. We won’t be short of energy methods and many series will be looking to provide a platform to allow development of these cars for many of our road cars in the future.

Not long ago, I was humbled when I was invited to do a one-on-one Zoom call with a man named Mike Rockenfeller. If that name sounds familiar to a lot of you, that’s because along with Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, he won the 24 hours of Le Mans in 2010. He is also the 2013 DTM champion.

Rocky and I got in touch because I had picked up on a project he had been working on, as he was one of the founding partners of the Racing Concept Cars Organisation which runs the World eX championship. This is a virtual racing series where one real-world professional racing driver teams up with one sim racer and compete in short, quickfire, entertaining races.

In my call with Rocky, he spoke at length about how he hopes to develop the series to potentially serve as a platform to allow manufacturers to test their electric motors on simulation software in the not-too-distant future. After all, eX stands for electric experimental.

Now don’t assume for a second that a virtual racing series just because it is not technically using an actual car, can’t help develop real life cars. In fact, it’s safe to say that manufacturers are using simulators to test their concepts all the time and virtual racing will only serve as a further means and cost-saving effective method to put those theories into practice before putting it on the road.

In their early days of venturing into virtual racing, RCCO ran a few lower profile events and exhibition championships that would plant the seeds of what would become World eX. They competed on Gran Turismo Sport using the Audi e-Tron Vision Gran Turismo, which was an experimental concept car developed by Audi in collaboration with Polyphony Digital who make the Gran Turismo games.

The e-Tron VGT has since been developed in real life and is the first fully functioning concept car that can drive on roads, and also the first which matches the virtual and “on-paper” statistics with the real specifications. It has since gone on to be used for taxi rides in support of the 2018 Berlin and Rome ePrix, and plans suggest it may go on to participate in the 24 hours of Nürburgring, as well as the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

All this from a car that was developed through a video game! It further proves that the virtual world is revolutionising the way we race and develop not only drivers but cars as well. That’s exactly what RCCO World eX aims to be, and right now for their first full season as a top level championship, they have an immense baseline with an incredible car called the eX ZERO.

The teams will use the specially developed eX ZERO car – courtesy of www.rccoworldex.com

Why is it incredible? Let’s give you some performance figures. The car that the teams will use in its fully-fledged inaugural season puts out 1,000 horsepower transferring through all its wheels from its two electric motors and two-speed gearbox. It has a perfect 1:1 power-to-weight ratio as a result of weighing only 1,000 kilograms despite its 100 kilowatt/hour battery.

As a result of all these numbers, the eX ZERO can go from a standstill to 62mph/100kph in a mere 2.3 seconds, to 124mph/200kph in 4.6 seconds and to 186mph/300kph in 9.5 seconds. Plus in its lowest drag configuration it can go on to a mind-bending maximum speed of 239mph/384kph.

The eX ZERO was developed in partnership with Studio 397 who are the creators of rFactor 2, the simulation software that World eX uses to stage its races. When developing the car it was imperative that it was to behave in a way that was true to life, despite the fact it only exists in the virtual world.

Throughout its development, Rocky wanted the car to behave in such a way that it would really test the drivers on the limit, so the car doesn’t stick to the circuit by any means and is a tricky little thing to drive. He also is well aware that battery powered electric cars without heavy braking zones to allow a lot of regeneration (like in Formula E) will not last for a long race distance, so they based the format of eX around this fact.

“With today’s technology and the amount of power we are deploying, we are limited to up to 15 minutes of flat-out racing,” says Rockenfeller. “This fits our unique race format with head-to-head battles and many short races. It would be easy to make the power capacity infinite for the virtual car, but that’s not what we want. Battery technology is developing rapidly and we will update the car with any new technology, which will be available in the near future. We are talking to potential partners from the automotive industry that can use our microcosm to promote their progress in the real world. And we are looking forward to seeing car manufacturers developing their own eX cars for our platform.”

The World eX will run a unique format in all of its events. It starts out with 22 cars doing 1v1 duels over a single lap. There will be 11 races, with five seeing pro drivers going against each other, another five with the sim drivers and then one race is between the two wildcard entries who qualified through rFactor 2. The winners of each duel automatically progress to the quarter finals, with one slot remaining for the winner of the two-lap repechage that consists of all the drivers who lost their duel race.

The quarter-finals see six cars compete in two races again across two laps, with the pro drivers and wildcard entrant forming group one and the sim racers along with the repechage winner forming the second group. The top four in each group progress to the semi-finals which consist of two races over three laps, with the top three in both races progressing to the four lap final.

After the final is the super final which is a single one-lap shootout between the top two finishers of the final. Whoever comes out on top is the official winner of the eX Prix and will automatically earn an invitation to the final round where that winner will be crowned World eX champion.

RCCO aim to allow manufacturers to develop their own cars for World eX in the not-too-distant future, not only for battery powered electric vehicles but also fuel-cell electric vehicles. I would like to think World eX could potentially lead to battery powered EVs to someday eventually be able to be charged to 100% in 30 seconds and have no wear on the battery as a result. The possibilities are absolutely endless.

However for 2021 at least, all the teams use the eX ZERO which is affectionately referred to as the ‘Sustainable Beast’, and here are some of the names you can expect to see participating in their first season.

Former Formula One driver Romain Grosjean will star in the new series – courtesy of www.rcco.ag

There are nine officially confirmed teams for the first season with vacant slots for guest entries plus two drivers who qualify through the game. There is a mix of established sim racing teams, new faces on the scene and even some real world heavyweights.

First there’s Absolute Racing which is real-world racing team competing across Asia in the likes of the Asian Le Mans Series, F3 Asia and the Intercontinental GT Challenge. They have signed reigning EuroFormula Open champion and former Renault Academy and FIA F3 driver Ye Yifei.

He will be partnered with a sim driver called Michi Hoyer, who has competed in the likes of the Le Mans 24 Virtual and The Race All-Star Series. Ye will not participate in the first round however and instead his place will be taken by former Audi LMS Cup champion Alessio Picariello.

BS+COMPETITION will have 2019 W Series runner-up and 2020 W Series Esports League champion Beitske Visser onboard as the sole full-time woman competing. Joining her will be Esports racer Alen Terzic who also competed in the likes of The Race All-Star Series and the Le Mans 24 Virtual.

Next up is Biela Racing, founded by five-time Le Mans winner and multiple national touring car champion Frank Biela who will not only run the team but also compete. His Esports teammate will be a talented German named Luca Kita.

NIANCO Esports is a team founded by Nico Müller who will be juggling his commitments in both Formula E for Dragon and DTM for Team Rosberg alongside World eX. He has selected another Swiss racer by the name of Thomas Schmid to be his teammate.

Patrick Long Esports is next up, founded by the American long-time Porsche factory driver whose name the team bares. A two-time class-winner at Le Mans, his lineup will consist of 2014 Indy Lights champion and 2015 IndyCar rookie of the year Gabby Chaves with the sim racing talent of Liam de Waal.

Undoubtedly the highest profile entry comes from R8G E-Sports Team, the sim racing team of former Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean. He will be competing as the pro driver with Risto Kappet as his team mate, one of the most accomplished sim racers in its short history.

Next we have TK9 E-SPEED, founded by the driver with the most Le Mans 24 hours wins of all time: Tom Kristensen. His team’s entry will feature former touring car champion Lasse Sørensen and Esports racer Andreas Jochimsen.

In its short lifespan, F1 team Williams’ Esports division has committed to and found immense success in a plethora of sim racing championships, and RCCO World eX will be no exception! They will have its real world racing representative be ex-Formula E driver Tom Dillmann, while their sim racer will be former Haas F1 Esports driver Martin Štefanko.

Finally for the last full time entry is Esports Team WRT which has made its success in the real world in the likes of World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe and formerly in DTM. They’ll be fielding reigning GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup champion Dries Vanthoor together with Fabrice Cornelis. The two teamed up with WRT in the Le Mans 24 Virtual, where they finished seventh.

Also throughout the season, many big motorsport names will be coming in to race as guest drivers. One of the first confirmed is reigning Formula E champion António Félix da Costa, who will be competing in the first round for temporary team NR eSports alongside sim racer Michael Niemas. Later on in the season, a tenth permanent entry will be added.

There will also be regional eX series that will be starting in the second half of 2021, which will be for drivers based in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Each region will host their own races with the winners having the chance to qualify for the World Championship events as wildcard drivers, and will create additional national eX series spreading the series all around the world.

Now for the schedule! All the races will take place on Thursdays, with the first being this upcoming Thursday 11th March.

March 11: eX Prix of Great Britain – Silverstone
April 1: eX Prix of the United States – Sebring
April 29: eX Prix of Malaysia – Sepang
May 27: eX Prix of the Netherlands – Maastricht (fictional circuit)
June 24: eX Prix of Brazil – Interlagos
July 29: eX Prix of Portugal – Estoril
August 26: eX Prix of Belgium – Spa-Francorchamps
September 30: TBC (will be confirmed in due course)
October 29: eX Prix of Monaco – Monte Carlo
November 25: AvD eX Prix of Germany – Nürburgring

Who knows what this series could become in the next few years. They’ve had a meteoric rise from just playing Gran Turismo Sport with a few mates, to a fully fledged Esports series that will serve as a testbed for manufacturers in years to come.

Further breaking down the barriers between the real and virtual worlds of motorsport, I’d love to see eX become a series in the real-world too. Just like what Extreme E is doing, it should show a new means to transport the cars to new locations and show that racing can be both entertaining and sustainable. For now at least, the racing will remain in the virtual world but it won’t lose any entertainment or relevance to this ever-evolving world of motorsport.

So how can you watch? Tune in to Motorsport TV’s website to find a dedicated channel for the RCCO World eX that not only includes the live broadcast but also behind the scenes insight and a monthly dedicated show. You can also watch the events broadcast from their Twitch channel @rccoworldex. Formula E pit lane reporter Nicki Shields will host the broadcasts.

To whet your appetite for Thursday’s eX Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone, watch this duel between Mike Rockenfeller and Romain Grosjean as they attempt to tame the ‘Sustainable Beast’ around the Nürburgring. If you have rFactor 2, you can download the eX ZERO via the Steam Network so you can drive it and witness its incredible speed for yourself.

Russell storms through to seal victory in Virtual São Paulo Grand Prix

We’ve had races at the Red Bull Ring, Silverstone and finally to close off this three-race mini championship, it’s the Interlagos circuit which has delivered many exciting races over the years and is a firm favourite of drivers and fans alike.

With the $100,000 prize pot being distributed among the competing teams for a charity of their choosing, Mercedes made their return after electing to miss the previous race at Silverstone. So it was nine of the ten teams taking part as Aston Martin did not compete in any of the events.

The following is what the line-ups looked like with the drivers competing in the 50% distance feature race listed with their F1 Esports counterpart racing for their grid positions listed next to them in brackets.

Mercedes
Jake Dixon (Jarno Opmeer)
Rohan Dennis (Dani Moreno)

Red Bull
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Johannes Hountondji (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren
Nic Hamilton (James Baldwin)
Jimmy Broadbent (Josh Idowu)

Alpine
Arnaud Tsamere (Nicolas Longuet)
Nicolas Prost (Fabrizio Donoso)

Ferrari
Arthur Leclerc (Brendon Leigh)
Dino Beganovic (David Tonizza)

AlphaTauri
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘PieFace’ McDermott (Simon Weigang)

Haas
Pietro Fittipaldi (Nolan Lambert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Cedric Thomé)

Williams
George Russell (Álvaro Carretón)
Alejandro ‘Flowstreet’ Pérez (Alessio Di Capua)

In the one-shot qualifying that took place before the sprint race, Alpine’s Nicolas Longuet earned pole position like he did when he qualified for the official F1 Esports series race at Interlagos back at the end of the season in December. He was hoping to earn that place for comedian and actor Arnaud Tsamere.

He would have an uphill task however as the two Ferrari drivers Brendon Leigh and David Tonizza – who had both won the other two sprint races each – were starting right behind him on the grid.

As the sprint race began, Longuet got off the line well and held position ahead of Leigh, but their teammates Fabrizio Donoso and Tonizza got into a scuffle going through the Senna S where the Alpine driver held his own round the outside and even chopped in front of Tonizza going around Curva do Sol.

For the first few laps, the Esports drivers were being well behaved. They all held position up at the front, but there was a sense of inevitability that Leigh was sizing up a move on Longuet to try and make it pole position for Arthur Leclerc.

Five laps around Interlagos don’t take very long and finally going onto lap three, DRS was enabled. Lap four and heading onto the back straight towards Descida do Lago, Leigh now had DRS but couldn’t get close to Longuet.

F1 Esports runner-up for the last two seasons Frederik Rasmussen’s torrid luck in the Virtual Grand Prix sprint races continued as he came into the pits, perhaps from getting into contact and breaking off a chunk of his front wing. He also had a track extending penalty and a pit-lane speeding penalty to rub salt in the wound.

Also having a bad day was Álvaro Carretón, who was attempting to get as high a grid position as possible for George Russell but was well outside of the top 10. To make matters worse, he had a track extending penalty to further drop him down the order by the end.

Back at the front heading onto the last lap, Leigh had an immense run on Longuet heading to the first corner but couldn’t make it stick. He attempted another move heading onto the second DRS zone but again, the Alpine racer held his nerve and it was a straight run to the end. Longuet held off the advancements of Leigh ahead of Donoso and Tonizza.

So for the 36 lap feature race, it would be Tsamere, Leclerc, Prost, Beganovic, Flowstreet, Albon, Hamilton, Salvadori, Dennis and Enzo Fittipaldi. George Russell, though, in his efforts to get six Virtual Grand Prix wins in a row would face a monumental task as he would start 15th.

But drama just before the race began, Nico Prost disconnected from the lobby and couldn’t rejoin for the start. As a result, everyone behind him on the grid moved up a position.

Going into the main race, the lights went out and Tsamere didn’t get as good a start as Arthur Leclerc, and the Ferrari driver out-dragged the Alpine. But then chaos ensued. Flowstreet smacked into the rear of Leclerc, who collected Tsamere and then Nic Hamilton collided with Alex Albon and went round too. Pretty much the entire field crowded around the outside of the Senna S and got caught up in the madness, but one of the ones that did not was George Russell.

Despite starting 14th on the grid, the Williams driver avoided the pile-up and was now in third! He found himself only behind race leader Dino Beganovic and pole-sitter Tsamere – who had taken to the run-off to avoid the chaos both ahead of him – by some absolute miracle.

Going onto lap two, Russell passed Tsamere and set off after the Ferrari Academy driver. Haas’ Enzo Fittipaldi had also benefitted from the first lap melee to go from tenth to fourth, and behind him was Petronas Moto2 rider Jake Dixon and then Alex Albon.

Russell had elected to start on soft tyres whilst the rest of front runners had gone for mediums, leading him to voice concerns that he was on the wrong strategy.

Lap two and Enzo Fittipaldi muscled his way past Arnaud Tsamere when he tagged his rear going into turn eight and was up to third. Then up at the front, heading to turn one Russell made the overtake on Beganovic and was into the lead.

Russell’s close friend Albon was behind Jake Dixon and in a role reversal of F1’s last visit to Interlagos, Albon put his Red Bull in a position to pass the Mercedes into Bico de Pato – the same corner where Lewis Hamilton attempted to pass Albon in the 2019 Grand Prix but collided and spun him round, but this time round. Albon succeeded where Hamilton failed and made his way past the 2018 British Superbike runner-up.

It wasn’t long before both Albon and Dixon also dispatched of Tsamere ahead of them. Up the road, Beganovic was now under pressure from Enzo Fittipaldi, who if Russell won the race would only need second place to be the defacto champion if points for drivers were counted. The Haas driver used the DRS and was up to P2.

The other Ferrari of Arthur Leclerc was in a lowly P7 after the first lap chaos and had a bit of a squirrel moment coming out of turn two. He had just passed the Alfa Romeo of PieFace who then tried to mount a repass heading to turn four, but the Prema F3 driver just held off the FIFA YouTuber. Later on in the lap, PieFace was passed by the other Fittipaldi: Pietro.

Fittipaldi then attempted a move on Leclerc heading into turn four on lap 12, but was on the outside and Leclerc moved over to the racing line where the Haas was and knocked him off the track

After being stuck behind Beganovic who was benefitting from getting DRS behind Enzo Fittipaldi for many laps, Alex Albon could now attack the Swedish youngster as he had fallen outside that crucial one second window.

Heading onto lap 14 into turn one, Albon went to the outside and they remained side by side through the Senna S and Curva do Sol. Getting DRS on the back straight heading to turn four, Albon looked to have pulled it off, but Beganovic didn’t back off and subsequently knocked Albon off the road, running wide himself.

The first to pit was McLaren’s Jimmy Broadbent heading onto lap 15. He had been in an on-track battle with PieFace and went to get rid of his softs in an attempt to undercut the Alfa Romeo driver. However his efforts were made all the more difficult when he rejoined just behind Flowstreet and Johannes Hountondji.

Back with the battle between Albon and Beganovic, Albon was again seizing up a maneuver on Beganovic and at the same corner that the Ferrari driver had smacked him off the road the lap before. Albon tried around the outside but to no avail and slotted in back behind Beganovic. But not long after that, with the help of DRS towards turn one, finally Albon had dispatched of Beganovic who then went round the outside of turn four on the Red Bull, but Albon muscled him out of the way and was finally into third.

At the end of lap 17, George Russell pulled the pin and pitted for mediums. He only just rejoined ahead of Leclerc, having had a gap of about 6.5 seconds to Enzo Fittipaldi, and he didn’t want to take a chance on being held up behind the Ferrari.

The next lap saw Fittipaldi pit for softs and once the rest of the front runners pitted, Russell made quick work of Mercedes’ Jake Dixon who had elected to extend his stint and got back into the lead. Enzo Fittipaldi, despite being on the grippier compound, had dropped to over seven seconds back, and wasn’t making the inroads on Russell he needed.

10 laps to go and at the tail end of the points, PieFace was holding off the advances of motorcycle racer Luca Salvadori after being passed by Jimmy Broadbent a few laps earlier. PieFace was using his controller whilst the remainder of the field were all using the top-line sim racing wheels.

A few laps later, Salvadori used the DRS to good effect into turn one and thought he could make the move stick but PieFace held it around the outside which became the inside for turn two. But heading to turn four, Salvadori passed PieFace without any issue to get into the last points-paying position.

PieFace attempted to mount a challenge to repass Salvadori but the following lap coming out of turn three, he spun around and any hopes of scoring points for Alfa Romeo ended right there and then. His teammate Thibaut Courtois – who had just played in Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Valencia just an hour before he got home to race – wasn’t in the points either. With McLaren scoring two points with Jimmy Broadbent, Alfa were set to finish bottom of the teams’ tally.

Mercedes’ Jake Dixon and Ferrari’s Arthur Leclerc resumed the battling they had been doing earlier and were exchanging places very frequently. Heading onto lap 31 Dixon went on the inside of Leclerc into turn one and Leclerc cut across the run-off.

He had a better run going onto the back straight and Dixon put up a robust defense on Leclerc but to no avail as on the run up to Ferradura, the Ferrari Academy driver made the move stick. Dixon was eager to get back through and in his haste, spun the car with just over two laps to go coming out of turn 10. However, he rejoined well ahead of Tsamere behind him.

Speaking of the French comedian, he was now under pressure from Jimmy Broadbent who had amassed one more penalty than Tsamere and, with only a few laps left to run, it was unlikely he would actually be able to be classified ahead. Nevertheless he attempted a move into turn one but thought better of it, before easily making the pass on the run to turn four.

But it was an emphatic George Russell who wrapped up his sixth consecutive Virtual Grand Prix victory and it never looked in doubt immediately after lap one, and he even took home the point for fastest lap as well in the process. Enzo Fittipaldi was second, and as a result was the defacto Virtual Grand Prix champion after winning the first round at the Red Bull Ring.

They were joined on the podium by Alex Albon, who had gapped Dino Beganovic hugely after their earlier scrap. Pietro Fittipaldi was fifth ahead of Arthur Leclerc, Jake Dixon, Arnaud Tsamere, Jimmy Broadbent and Luca Salvadori rounded off the points in tenth.

The consistency of the Fittipaldi brothers meant that Haas scored the most points with 85 across this three-race championship and would take $20,000 of the $100,000 prize pot for their charity of choice. Their charity is the Grand Prix Trust, a foundation set up to help fund the costs of former F1 behind-the-scenes workers to help cover medical expenses, bereavement costs, and other things they may need financial support with.

Second with 62 points were Ferrari who, along with last-placed Alfa Romeo, are donating their portions of the $100,000 to Save The Children – a charity which looks to give children the support they need in life, whether it be in everyday life, or extreme times of crisis or hardship.

Williams got third with 57 points and their charity of choice is rather fittingly the Spinal Injury Association, since the founder of the team Sir Frank Williams suffered a spinal injury and as a result is confined to a wheelchair. The SIA helped out the Williams family when Sir Frank had his traffic collision in the 80’s and, despite no longer being involved with the running of the team now, it is still holds a place in the heart of the Williams team.

Red Bull were fourth with 54 points and Alpha Tauri joint seventh with McLaren with four points. The chosen charity for Red Bull and its junior team is Wings For Life, the charity founded by Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz. The non-profit organisation has been seen in F1 before with special liveries on the Red Bull team’s cars, and funds vital medical research in the area of spinal cord injuries and paraplegia, with a goal of ultimately finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.

Next up is Mercedes who got fifth on 28 points, and their chosen charity is Alzheimer’s Research UK, which provides the crucial funds to research the cure for a leading cause of dementia – a progressive disease which causes memory loss, and impairs thinking skills.

Alpine ended up sixth on 10 points, and they partnered up with Talent Tap, an organisation that aims to assist qualified people who have struggled to find a job in their chosen field. And it is a two-way street, affording employees a fresh cohort of talented and determined people ready to hit the ground running.

Finally, last but not least is McLaren, who tied for seventh with AlphaTauri on four points and their chosen charity is Mind. After working with them closely last year on content attempting to normalise discussion around Mental Health, especially during these trying times when everyone feels isolated due to how severe the mental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been.

So that has been it! The three-race Virtual Grand Prix season is at an end and it has been some light entertainment for us all whilst we are waiting for the real F1 season to get up and running. Hopefully we will see it back this time next year.

F1 game developers Codemasters to be acquired by EA and what it means

Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Since 2009, the British gaming studio Codemasters have been the developers of the Formula One games. They’ve taken the F1 licensed games to new heights, from their first installment on the Wii and PlayStation Portable – which did leave something to be desired – to the modern day, where the games are playable on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Recently however, Codemasters have been weighing up the option of acquisition by a bigger video game company, either by Take Two Interactive – who are the parent company of Rockstar Games – or Electronic Arts. They look set to be leaning more towards the latter, for a whopping $1.2 billion. So what could this mean for the future of the F1 games?

The Codemasters F1 games have in recent years been the platform of the rising F1 Esports series

On the immediate face of it when it comes to the way the game is built, not much. EA acquiring Codemasters would not automatically mean that the game will suddenly and violently change to a handling model like EA’s own Need For Speed title, not even Mario Kart for that matter. That’s what the 2012 game F1 Race Stars is for. Whilst we are touching upon that, EA please green-light a follow up to that game!

Anyway back to the matter at hand. What will change?

Immediately let’s acknowledge the bigger issue at hand. EA has garnered an extremely negative reputation in the gaming community, due to how it implements micro-transactions. Gone are the days of actually playing the game to earn what you want, now you can just pay for it. However in the last few years, EA have gone even further than that.

In their FIFA titles and licensed Star Wars Battlefront games, they’ve implemented a rather controversial system referred to by the larger gaming community as ‘Lootboxes’. What these are is essentially paying a fee and then leaving it up to chance as to what you can get, so it’s pretty much a slot machine. It even got the attention of governments, like in Belgium where the usage of lootboxes was outlawed in all video games you could buy there.

However I have difficulty being so pessimistic about EA acquiring the F1 games. I don’t see how the F1 games can be exploited by EA at all, at least not to a ridiculous degree like FIFA and Star Wars.

In the current F1 game, there has been an effort made to adopt many methods from loads of mainstream games. F1 2020 saw the first time players could create and run their own team, in the MyTeam mode where you can attempt to follow in the footsteps of Sir Jack Brabham and win the championship as an owner/driver.

Within that gamemode, you can hire drivers from both pre-existing F1 teams and also in the 2019 FIA Formula 2 championship to be your teammate. On the MyTeam save file I have (which admittedly I haven’t touched in some time), I have the late Anthoine Hubert as my teammate whose presence in the game came with the blessing of his family. You can also hire the likes of Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott.

What came along with it were Driver Cards, which compared drivers based on a set number of a particular skill, such as experience, racecraft, awareness and pace. So it is very much like what FIFA do with Player Cards.

Also in the most recent title, there is what’s referred to as a Podium Pass which is reminiscent of what you can find in a load of popular titles like Fortnite, Rocket League and Fall Guys. You play races and level up, unlocking items which you can then use in-game, and then a new set of items come along after a few months for you to earn all over again.

The issue is with this is that the majority of the items aren’t really useful. You can unlock helmets which you can change the colour of; you can now even unlock celebrations when your character goes onto the podium such as a simple arms in the air wave or even a moonwalk. But as far as I can see, that’s it for the wider playerbase.

You can also unlock liveries for the spec car you can use in MyTeam and also in multiplayer, as well as overalls and gloves for your character to use in those game modes. But the majority of the playerbase won’t be using them as when they do go online, you’ll find that most of the players don’t want to use the car you can use in MyTeam and multiplayer. Instead, they prefer to use the official F1 teams’ cars.

Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

As of late with the F1 games, more and more of the playerbase are focusing on online racing, especially with the rise of league racing over the years and the success of F1 Esports. EA will be wanting to find a means of monetising the online experience as the core playerbase knows it, and I struggle to find where aside from helmets and emotes.

What they could do and what I am fully expecting them to do, is adding in the exclusive for 2020 circuits and charging a fee for them. With the 2021 schedule adding in the Imola and Portimão circuits which served as replacement races once the 2020 season was compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic, the other circuits that were added in were Mugello, Nürburgring, Istanbul Park and the Bahrain outer layout. I think a lot of players would be very happy to see these circuits added in and would probably happily pay for them.

The F1 games in recent years have also had classic cars in-game, every year since 2017 we’ve been able to drive the likes of – but not limited to – Ayrton Senna’s 1988 McLaren, Michael Schumacher’s 2004 Ferrari and since the 2018 game we could also drive Jenson Button’s iconic 2009 Brawn.

I mentioned it before but since the 2019 game, we can also drive the Dallara F2 2018 car in the colours of all the many teams that have competed in the FIA Formula 2 championship. There has been outcry from the community for years to implement a full on ladder system from karting to F1, to which I say I think the furthest we can ever realistically expect that to go is FIA Formula 3 also being implemented but no further than that.

The classic cars and F2/F3 being behind a paywall wouldn’t change the core elements of the game though. The players buy the game mainly to drive the official F1 team’s cars around the 20 or so circuits that make up the official F1 calendar every year. If EA tried to put access to the F1 teams behind either an impossibly high in-game task or a ‘small fee’, that would severely interrupt the way people play the game. I just can’t think of a way EA could do that without alienating the fanbase. With that being said though, this is EA we are talking about.

In short, I can’t see EA adding anything that wouldn’t be just a more extreme version of the Podium Pass, probably with classic cars in there and historical F1 helmets and overalls. I fail to see how they could add a system similar to what FIFA has with its Ultimate Team gamemode which would feed into online. I mean they could very well have a system like it but it would only work in MyTeam so you could certainly open a lootbox and have a microscopic chance of unlocking an F1 legend to be your teammate.

These words could very well come back to haunt me, and knowing my luck they probably will. But EA acquiring Codemasters I firmly believe is a good thing, since Codemasters can use their resources and expand their efforts to introduce the 2020 exclusive circuits that the community are begging for among many other things. They even said themselves that adding in the Hanoi and Zandvoort circuits took up a lot of effort, and this was also on top of getting the F2 cars and MyTeam mode implemented into the games over the last two installments.

They could go a step further and properly laserscan all the circuits for future games. The current games’ versions of the F1 circuit list aren’t completely true to life in many areas according to many people who play the game, thereby making the game feel even more authentic.

Most of all though, I fully expect the online aspect of the F1 games to take a step up. Maybe we could be looking at the prospect of dedicated servers, a replay system like Gran Turismo Sport allowing you to save the race and go back to it to review angles from all driver’s perspectives. But primarily, with a lot of mainstream titles like the latest Call of Duty as well as Fortnite and Rocket League, cross-platform play is starting to become the norm.

With the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles being released, now would be the perfect time to implement cross-platform to the F1 games so you can now play with your mates who are on PC whilst you’re on your console.

In conclusion, I don’t expect the F1 by EA memes to be anywhere near true, like “Pay £9.99 to unlock pitstops”. I have reason to be optimistic that the future of the F1 games as we know it is rosy, I hope you lot are now as well.

Russell bests Albon in Virtual British GP duel

Image courtesy of F1 2020 gameplay

After last weekend’s Virtual Grand Prix return at the Red Bull Ring, it was round two at Silverstone before the finale next weekend on the Interlagos circuit.

It was nine of the ten teams competing last weekend with Racing Point/Aston Martin electing to sit out, but despite coming perilously close to winning at the Austrian GP circuit with driver Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes chose to not compete in the second event.

The line-up for the event is as follows, with the driver competing in the main 50% distance race listed accordingly with the Formula 1 Esports driver doing the five-lap sprint race to determine their grid positions next to them in brackets:

Red Bull
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Liam Lawson (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren
Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly (Josh Idowu)
Jimmy Broadbent (James Baldwin)

Alpine
Lucas ‘Squeezie’ Hauchard (Bence Szabó-Kónyi)
Aléthéa ‘Theamusante’ Boucq (Fabrizio Donoso)

Ferrari
Callum Ilott (Brendon Leigh)
Robert Shwartzman (Amos Laurito)

AlphaTauri
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘PieFace’ McDermott (Simon Weigang)

Haas
Pietro Fittipaldi (Samuel Libeert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Floris Wijers)

Williams
George Russell (Álvaro Carretón)
Nicholas Latifi (Alessio Di Capua)

Note: 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza was meant to be qualifying the car for Robert Shwartzman but had to withdraw due to a foot injury, and Nicolas Longuet had to withdraw from qualifying the car for Squeezie due to unknown reasons.

Before the five-lap sprint was a one-shot qualifying for the Esports drivers, and it was Marcel Kiefer who came out on top in that session looking to seal that position in the feature race for Alex Albon.

The sprint race began and Ferrari’s Brendon Leigh got up to third ahead of Floris Wijers whilst Kiefer held off Alessio Di Capua. Wijers spun heading into Village, whilst Leigh put an incredible move on Di Capua into The Loop and was now in second behind Kiefer.

Lap two and Haas’ other driver Samuel Libeert had just passed McLaren’s Josh Idowu and the Welshman wasn’t taking it lying down, he tried a move heading into Village but suddenly had the Williams of Álvaro Carretón and the Alfa Romeo of Simon Weigang either side of him coming out of The Loop. He held off Weigang but Carretón held his ground going onto the Wellington straight and pulled off an outside move into Brooklands.

Back at the front, Leigh looked to be weighing up a move on the leading Kiefer. Lap four heading into Brooklands, the two-time champion pulls off the maneauver into the lead looking to get fellow Brit and Ferrari reserve driver Callum Ilott pole position for their home Virtual Grand Prix.

Kiefer had no answer to Leigh and so it was the Ferrari driver winning on his home track, meanwhile just behind them Alfa Romeo’s Dani Bereznay pulled off a pass on Alessio Di Capua, who then proceeded to spin right at the end which plummeted him from at the very least fourth to what would become twelfth at the line.

Thanks to Leigh’s efforts, Callum Ilott would start the feature race from pole ahead of Alex Albon, with the remainder of the top 10 consisting of Thibaut Courtois, Jimmy Broadbent, George Russell, PieFace, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Benjamin Daly, Pietro Fittipaldi and Squeezie. The previous Virtual Grand Prix winner Enzo Fittipaldi would have all the work to do as his sprint race teammate Floris Wijers couldn’t improve his position after his first-lap spin, thus the younger Fittipaldi brother would start 16th and last on the grid.

Onto the all-important Virtual Grand Prix main race, 26 laps around Silverstone.

At the start, Ilott elected to start on softs whilst Albon was on mediums, so Ilott got away well whilst Albon held off the charging Courtois. McLaren’s Jimmy Broadbent had a shocker, he had hardware issues as his racing wheel disconnected, undoing all the hard work by James Baldwin in the sprint race.

The other McLaren of fellow YouTube racing gamer Benjamin Daly spun coming through The Loop after potentially getting into contact with the Alfa Romeo of PieFace. So it was the worst possible start for the McLaren duo.

At the front, Ilott rocketed into an early lead and Albon was attempting to hold off a Real Madrid goalkeeper. Courtois was on the grippier softer tyres and seemed very eager to pass the two-time podium finisher, and subsequently used up a lot of his ERS in the process. He used it all to great effect though as he managed an outside move into Maggots! A stunning move. One that George Russell teased Albon about over their shared game chat.

Albon immediately attempted a move on Courtois heading into the Village-The Loop complex but it resulted in Russell getting the better of his childhood friend. Russell was now up to third, and a lap later once again on the Wellington straight with the help of DRS, he put a move on the Belgian goalkeeper who held his line, but relinquished the position after exiting Luffield. He then got immediately passed by Albon on the run up to Copse.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the fight was between Ilott, Russell and Albon. The Ferrari driver was on a different strategy and was trying to use up his softs in the first stint to get as big a gap on the other two who would then get the grippier tyres in the second stint.

Behind them though, the Haas drivers had gotten past Courtois. Enzo Fittipaldi inparticular benefited hugely from the first lap melee to get himself from last into a strong points paying position. His brother Pietro made inroads on Albon and attempted an audacious maneuver heading into Village but outbraked himself and the Red Bull driver got back past.

Further down the field, Benjamin Daly was holding off the advances of 2021 Formula 2 drivers Robert Shwartzman and Liam Lawson. First the Ferrari driver got through on the YouTuber and then Lawson attempted to follow but couldn’t avoid smacking the rear of the McLaren, sending the Aussie into a half-spin.

Laps 9 and 10 saw the Fittipaldi brothers pitting in, both of whom ran the soft tyres so it was clear that longtime race leader Callum Ilott would be pitting soon. Surely enough, the following lap saw Ilott pitting as Albon pulled off an overtake on Russell just in time to take the lead.

Ilott rejoined behind the AlphaTauri pair of Liuzzi and Salvadori, but he made quick work of Liuzzi and put himself in relatively clear air to ensure he could have the gap to Albon and Russell when they both pitted. Speaking of Albon, he was the first of the leading group to pick up a three-second time penalty for track limit warnings, which would prove later on to be pivotal.

The Thai driver came into the pits on lap 14 to fit the softs, and just rejoined ahead of the Fittipaldi duo and behind Ilott. Russell followed suit the next lap and slotted in behind Albon who was just eating into Ilott’s lead. Lap 17 and Albon managed to pull off an immense move on Ilott around the Abbey and Farm complex to run side by side with Ilott, held it on the outside through Village which turned to the inside of The Loop. He was now in the lead, but still had that three second penalty looming over him.

Later on in the lap, Russell caught Ilott but couldn’t pass him on the Hangar straight even with DRS assistance, so attempted again on the Wellington straight and made it stick. It was now inevitably a straight battle between Albon and Russell for the win.

Lap 23, a few laps from home and football game streamer PieFace elected to pit for softs to go for a fastest lap attempt, which despite being on a controller when everyone else was using a wheel and pedals, he actually managed to do! But Alex Albon quickly took that back later on to earn the point for fastest lap.

Back at the front on the following lap, George Russell pulled the pin when he didn’t have to, and overtook Albon for the lead. As long as Russell didn’t get a corner cutting penalty, he could have sat behind Albon and still win but he wanted to win it on track too.

It wasn’t long before Albon got it back, as with the usage of DRS on the Wellington straight on the last lap, he flew past Russell and brought it home first over the line. However of course on penalties, it meant that it was George Russell, the unofficial Virtual Grand Prix champion winning yet again. He won the last four Virtual Grand Prix races before the 2020 season got up and running, and made it five wins in his last five entries.

Joining Russell and Albon on the virtual podium was Callum Ilott, a valiant effort from who many believe to be deserving of a full time F1 seat. The top 10 were completed by Pietro and Enzo Fittipaldi, Liam Lawson, Nicholas Latifi, Robert Shwartzman, Benjamin Daly and Luca Salvadori.

In the team’s standings, Haas still lead the way on 57 points from Ferrari with 42 and Red Bull on 39. Williams get off the mark on 31 whilst the absent Mercedes hold 22. Then at the tail end of the standings we have Alpine on 6, AlphaTauri 3, and finally McLaren and Alfa Romeo tying on 2 points. Their finishing positions will dictate which of the team’s elected charities will net the most money from F1’s £100,000 prize pool after next weekend’s finale around the Interlagos circuit.

Be sure to tune in next Sunday at 6pm UK time to F1’s official Twitch, YouTube and Facebook social media channels and potentially your country’s F1 broadcasting channel to see who will come out on top in this Virtual Grand Prix series.

Enzo Fittipaldi victorious in Virtual Austrian Grand Prix

Image courtesy of Red Bull Racing

After a successful first run of virtual races during the extended off-season, Formula 1 has brought back the Virtual Grand Prix for a three-race mini championship to sustain us until lights go out in Bahrain on March 28th. The first event was held at the Red Bull Ring and featured a star-studded line-up.

Nine of the ten teams competed with their official Esports drivers from the F1 Esports Series taking to the track for a five-lap sprint race to determine the grid order for their feature race counterparts. Each team are competing for a share of a £100,000 prize pot, the better their results in the feature race, the more money they get to go toward a charity of their choice.

The line-up is as follows, with the feature race driver and then their sprint race counterpart in brackets:

Mercedes:
Stoffel Vandoorne (Jarno Opmeer)
Anthony Davidson (Dani Moreno)

Red Bull:
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Jeffrey Herlings (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren:
Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly (James Baldwin)
Jimmy Broadbent (Josh Idowu)

Alpine:
Christian Lundgaard (Fabrizio Donoso)
Oscar Piastri (Nicholas Longuet)

Ferrari:
Marcus Armstrong (David Tonizza)
Arthur Leclerc (Brendon Leigh)

AlphaTauri:
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo:
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘Pieface23’ McDermott (Thijmen Schutte)

Haas:
Pietro Fittipaldi (Samuel Libeert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Cedric Thomé)

Williams:
Alejandro ‘Flowstreet’ Pérez (Álvaro Carretón)
Nicholas Latifi (Alessio Di Capua)

Note: George Russell was meant to be driving for Williams alongside Latifi but due to unknown reasons, was forced to withdraw last minute. Also, Aston Martin elected to not take part most likely due to the F1 2020 game still housing their BWT-branded Racing Point livery.

Before the sprint race started, a one-lap qualifying determined the grid and it was David Tonizza who would start on pole looking to seal that slot for F2 driver Armstrong. The race got underway and Tonizza held off the advances of Mercedes’ Dani Moreno and Red Bull’s Marcel Kiefer.

Further back it was carnage as Williams’ Álvaro Carretón was sent into a spin after he tapped Alfa Romeo’s Dani Bereznay, and AlphaTauri’s Manuel Biancolilla also got caught in an incident and both subsequently went to the back of the field. The very fast and rapid Red Bull Ring being only 2.7-miles long meant the race was over with quite quickly but it didn’t stop there being battles.

2017 and 2018 F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh who has just moved to Ferrari for this year, pulled off an incredible move on Marcel Kiefer on the last lap by going round the outside at turn four, and holding his line into turn five to guarantee Arthur Leclerc a third place start behind Davidson and Armstrong.

Now onto the 36 lap feature race. The race began with predictably some chaos, as Motocross champion Jeffrey Herlings either forgot to calibrate his brake pedal or just decided to not brake, and he collected a few drivers in the process. Meanwhile, the Ferrari academy drivers got away well but Davidson in the Merc seemed to be suffering from some technical issues as his car was all over the place.

But Jimmy Broadbent starred in the opening laps. Thanks to the efforts of Josh Idowu, he lined up fifth on the grid and opted to start on the mediums, and was up to third when he dispatched of the lag-strewn Davidson. As Armstrong and Leclerc established an early lead, it was Broadbent ahead of a group featuring the Fittipaldi brothers, Vandoorne and Courtois.

Up at the front, no team orders were holding back the Ferrari drivers. Arthur Leclerc put a move on Armstrong for the lead, and then Enzo Fittipaldi passed Broadbent to take third which would prove pivotal later on.

Rather inevitably, drivers would begin to rack up penalties due to track extending, with the only exception being Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri. It got so bad, former F1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi even got disqualified for racking up so many penalties. This would also play a part in deciding the eventual winner.

Leclerc was the first to bite the penalty cherry of the leading group heading onto lap 11, which put Armstrong in a good position to take advantage. A few laps later, Leclerc was in to the pits and held off Enzo Fittipaldi who had stopped a few laps prior to Leclerc, but when Armstrong pitted to cover off his team mate, he didn’t slow down in time for the pit entry line and got a five second penalty. To add insult to injury, he not only rejoined behind his team mate but also Enzo Fittipaldi.

Stoffel Vandoorne was heading the field having started on the medium tyres and would come to pit on lap 22. This began a charge from Vandoorne propelling him past Pietro Fittipaldi and Marcus Armstrong.

Heading into the last ten laps, Enzo Fittipaldi tailed Arthur Leclerc and it was hotting up between them. The pin was pulled on lap 28 as Enzo tapped Leclerc in the rear heading into turn three and sent the Ferrari driver wide, and he took quick advantage. Three laps later, Leclerc repasses him at the same corner.

He would later rack up another track extension penalty which meant up until that point when Leclerc and Enzo Fittipaldi both had the single three-second penalty, the Ferrari driver now had two of them. This was immediately followed by a wheel banging tussle from the start of the lap all the way up to turn four, and they continued to battle all the way up until Leclerc attempted an extremely over-optimistic move into turn three on the last lap which sent him wide.

That left the Haas driver to take victory, Leclerc followed him home but due to penalties, lost second-place to Stoffel Vandoorne who had caught up to the pair of them incredibly and had the race gone on for an extra lap, he could very well have won with the pace he had.

Alex Albon was classified fourth ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi, Marcus Armstrong, Oscar Piastri, Anthony Davidson, Luca Salvadori and Thibaut Courtois who also scored an extra point for fastest lap.

An immensely entertaining race and there’s more where that came from! The Virtual Grand Prix racing will return this Sunday at Silverstone, and then the finale will be Interlagos the Sunday afterwards. To watch, check F1’s official social media channels (Twitch, YouTube, Facebook) as well as your appropriate F1 broadcast channels in your country at 6pm UK time to watch the rest of this virtual madness.

GT World Challenge to pioneer initiative integrating real-world and virtual racing

It was announced yesterday that the SRO Motorsports Group – the promoter of the GT World Challenge – will be forming a partnership with sim-racing hardware developers Fanatec, who provide the wheels for all the drivers in the F1 Esports Series. Fanatec will become the title sponsor for the GT World Challenge (across all regions) as well as this year’s new GT2 European Series.

However, the main announcement was a revolutionary, world first amalgamation of both real-world and virtual racing. At all five rounds of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup including the flagship 24 hours of Spa, there will also be a designated zone in the paddock for simulators with the official GT World Challenge game Assetto Corsa Competizione.

The teams that compete in the Pro Cup and Silver Cup classes will nominate a driver within their line-up to compete in a race that will count towards points in the team’s championship. Thus making the GTWCE Endurance Cup the first series to have virtual racing count for points in a real-world racing series.

Image courtesy of Assetto Corsa Competizione gameplay

Last year during the halt on real world racing, both professional and sim drivers competed in their own championships. SRO ran its own GT E-Sport Series in which F2 driver Louis Delétraz won over McLaren factory driver Ben Barnicoat. However the races they did were not then counted for points towards the real-world racing that returned later that year, this is a world first to see virtual racing count towards a championship in real world motorsport.

But it’s not like it hasn’t been attempted before. After the success of the Las Vegas eRace in which sim drivers competed against full-time Formula E drivers in a standalone race, Formula E were evaluating whether to have a sim race to replace a cancelled ePrix and have it count towards the championship. There was also potentially some suggestion of some sim races making up a part of the NASCAR Euro Series schedule, but the idea of doing that is not an extremely popular one amongst drivers and fans alike.

Will it work?

I love sim racing and as much as I love seeing the barriers between the two be broken down, it’s definitely a different ballpark from real-world racing and I don’t think it’s a good idea to combine them together if it means the drivers are obligated to do both. I’d personally opt to keep them separate so no one driver is disadvantaged in the sim racing side that would negatively impact their chances in the real-racing championship.

There is a vastly different set of skills needed to succeed in Esports racing and the fact now that there is a chance that a real-world racing championship can be decided by points from a sim race is very conflicting to me. All I can say is, I’m glad it’s only towards the team’s championship and not the driver’s championship.

Image courtesy of Assetto Corsa Competizione gameplay

It does seem to be a bit of a missed opportunity that instead of the real world drivers doing these races, that the manufacturers and teams don’t instead have a sim driver compete for them. At the very least, a professional driver and a sim driver could share the driving duties, like maybe reigning GTWCE Endurance Cup champion Alessandro Pier Guidi could swap out the virtual Ferrari 488 he’s driving halfway through a race with, for example, 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza.

A bit like what Tonizza and his many F1 Esports counterparts will be doing when the F1 Virtual Grand Prix series returns at the end of this month. That being where the Esports racers will do a five-lap qualification race to decide the grid, and then hand it to the F1 drivers and other competitors racing in the VGP itself.

What I’m saying is, the concept could certainly have been executed much worse. But in the end, I feel rather conflicted because I love seeing the Esports racing side being embraced but having the real world drivers compete for points that will end up affecting the real-world racing championship, it’ll certainly be a challenge for a lot of them, that’s for sure. But I’m still not sure exactly how to feel about this.

For better or for worse, this will certainly be an interesting experiment but I certainly hope it doesn’t become the norm. Nevertheless I’ll be watching when this format takes shape, which will be at the opening round of the GTWCE Endurance Cup at Monza on the weekend of April 18th.

Feature image courtesy of SRO / Patrick Hecq Photography

F1 Virtual Grand Prix Series to return

During last year’s extended off-season, F1 put on a set of Virtual Grand Prix races to sustain our appetite for racing whilst we couldn’t do that in real life. It ran between the weekend of what would have been the Bahrain Grand Prix to the weekend when the Canadian Grand Prix would have taken place, before F1 returned to real racing three weeks afterward.

The races were entertaining and there was hope we could see the Virtual Grand Prix return during the winter off-season. Well, now it’s back!

Starting at the end of this month, a run of three consecutive weeks will see more drivers, other notable sporting athletes and celebrities compete on the F1 game. The first race will take place on January 31st on the Red Bull Ring, the second on February 7th on Silverstone and the last round on February 14th on Interlagos.

Unlike the 2020 events which all ran as standalone races, all three events will keep a points tally and have a champion at the end of it. Had points been counted last year, Williams driver George Russell would have been the unofficial winner with four wins in the last four races, but this time a champion will officially be crowned.

For the three-race championship, the format has been given a little shake-up. Before the official race, the drivers of the F1 Esports series will take to the virtual track in a five-lap sprint which will essentially be a qualification race to determine the grid.

In support of last year’s Virtual Grand Prix events, the F1 Esports drivers such as eventual 2020 champion Jarno Opmeer, his predecessors David Tonizza and Brendon Leigh among the many other talented racers would compete in a Pro Exhibition race. Now they’ll be playing a much more direct part in the event itself, perhaps enticing more people to seek out the F1 Esports series when it returns for its fifth season later this year.

Enzo Bonito and David Tonizza, FDA (Scuderia Ferrari Media)

After the grid is determined, the usual crowd will take over and compete in a 50% distance race. All ten teams will battle for points and will nominate a charity for F1 to send a donation to after the three-race season ends, with all the drivers playing a part in getting the best possible result and earning their selected charity some money.

So who will compete? F1 says to keep your eyes on their social media channels for driver announcements in the upcoming weeks. Expect a fair amount of celebrities and other sporting athletes to compete alongside drivers both in F1 and from other categories.

13 of the 23 drivers from last season competed in at least one race in the first run of Virtual Grand Prix races: Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Alexander Albon, Antonio Giovinazzi, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez and even the super subs Pietro Fittipaldi and Nico Hülkenberg.

Expect that a few of these will take part. Despite being some of the first to commit to them, Norris and Leclerc are both currently recovering from COVID-19 and Norris has even stated he would be taking a step back from any committed sim racing events in the off-season.

Other notable drivers who competed include former drivers like Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson, Johnny Herbert and Stoffel Vandoorne, DTM driver Phillip Eng, F2 driver and Renault junior Guanyu Zhou, and many Ferrari Driver Academy members like Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Gianluca Petecof and Arthur Leclerc. BTCC driver Nicolas Hamilton even did a couple of races with his brother’s former team McLaren.

Many guest drivers from outside of motorsport drove during the first leg of Virtual Grand Prix races—some with more success than others—such as surfer Kai Lenny (pictured in the feature image above driving for Red Bull). Some standout performances from top athletes in other sports include Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and professional golfer Ian Poulter, who both also competed in many of Veloce Esports’ Not The GP races.

Some other popular additions to the grid would include YouTubers such as Jimmy Broadbent who did a few races with Racing Point, and also Tiametmarduk who competed in the last two Virtual GP events for McLaren after becoming their Esports team’s brand ambassador.

Ultimately, the Virtual Grand Prix races were an immense success even if they could have been conducted better. But with the lack of time to plan in advance and how the F1 schedule was changing all the time, we got the best we could. Now though, this three-race mini championship promises to provide us with some immense entertainment as we prepare for the 2021 F1 season.

Keep an eye out on F1’s social media channels to find out who will represent the 10 teams and expect to be able to watch the three events in the three successive weeks beginning on January 31st on F1’s official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook pages.

My league racing journey

Image courtesy of F1 2020 gameplay

 

So the motor racing season has ended and we’re all twiddling our thumbs waiting for it to come back. I’m sure we’ve all got things to keep us occupied, like watching YouTube videos and playing video games perhaps? I know I certainly have. But more than playing video games, I’ve been participating in league racing.

What is league racing I hear you ask? Well it’s organised competitive racing that takes place on driving games including but not limited to the F1 games, Gran Turismo Sport, Assetto Corsa Competizione, Project CARS, iRacing, rFactor 2… you get the idea.

The league racing scene when it comes to the Codemasters F1 games, is often where you will find F1 Esports hopefuls competing looking to remain sharp or get their foot in the door. Some of the top-line F1 gaming leagues include Apex Online Racing and Online Racing League. It was always something I knew I wanted to get involved in, but for the longest time I never felt I could do, however 2020 was the year I finally decided to dip my toes in to the online racing scene.

It all began with my friend Oscar telling me about some racing he was doing with a league he was involved in on Gran Turismo Sport called RaceSquare, and what enticed me was that they were using Super Formula cars. These are the cars used in Japan’s top-level single-seater championship which I really enjoyed driving, and I ended up doing rather well in my first race. It was at Suzuka and I was one of the leading drivers; a guy called Matt absolutely schooled me though.

The highlight for me of that particular season was a race at Monza. We have caution periods where we all bunch up and go slow to ensure nobody who got hit off loses too much, and I absolutely aced a restart and got from ninth to fifth. I then immediately drove around another competitor in the second part of the Rettifilio chicane. Before long, I pass the guys in third, second and then finally the leader and I don’t relinquish that lead. My first victory in online competitive racing, and in a very strong field as well.

Image courtesy of Gran Turismo sport gameplay

The race itself was never broadcast, but if you own Gran Turismo Sport then you can go to the Discover tab on the game and search in the Replays section with the Search tags: ‘league’, ‘superformula’ and ‘racesquare’, you’ll be able to find a video of it that I shared and you can give it a watch for yourself.

I did okay for a first-timer but my contacts with RaceSquare went a bit dry after that. We tried doing a series of races with the Red Bull X2014 Junior car but that died off pretty quickly, however I still hold the utmost gratitude towards them and have fond memories of my time there.

Not long after F1 2020 was released, The PitCrew Online’s own Rob Kershaw made me aware of a league starting up called The Optimal Racing League that he was a commentator for. Rob lends his voice to many F1 gaming leagues; he even commentates on a league called The Formula PlayStation League that our very own Jack Prentice took part in and he managed to finish third in the championship last season.

He put me in touch with the guys heading that up and I was placed in the second tier. I qualified rather well for my first race and barring a careless maneuver I did which spun a competitor out, to whom I apologised immediately after the race, it was a great drive from myself. I finished third on my F1 game league racing debut – best of the rest behind the two drivers in the McLaren cars. I pitted near the end to get the fastest lap and I did just that.

The next race was much of the same. I pitted near the end as I was so far behind the two McLaren drivers and getting a podium and fastest lap, except I actually managed somehow to qualify on pole position.

I unfortunately never really did improve much after that – they were my high points. I do firmly try to keep myself grounded and remember I’m doing this because I want to do it and that I enjoy it, but I’d be lying if that illusive first victory in an F1 2020 league wasn’t something I desperately wanted. It all culminated in the last round of Optimal Racing League at Silverstone where I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. It went badly.

Coming to the end of the race, we had a safety car period and everyone in front of me pitted as I had already done so a few laps before. I got very flustered and couldn’t keep tyre temperature, and on the restart I kept the overtake button on and drained my battery by mistake. A competitor then tried to pass me and I tried to move across to defend my line but they couldn’t avoid me. I attempted to relinquish the position but they were wedged on my car and lost a whole chunk of positions. I felt terrible about it, so I drove off and crashed, left the lobby and the league’s Discord server.

The next few months, I never went anywhere near league racing as I didn’t want to be the reason why someone’s race is ruined. However it was JessGames95 on Twitter who I’ve been friendly with for a while, that brought me back into the league racing scene. She’s a well known and much beloved commentator in the league racing community, having done commentary for Apex Online Racing, Online Racing League and Inside Line Racing, and she was advertising a league called PSGL that peaked my interest.

Known at the time as PlayStation Gaming League – now known as Premier Sim Gaming League – I decided to sign up on a whim thinking I had no chance. After submitting the evaluation material, they placed me in the 11th and bottom tier as I still need some driver aids. I joined for their penultimate race at the US Grand Prix circuit and qualified a very respectable third, then somehow I put in a stonking performance.

Aside from some contact with another competitor which cost them a bit of their front wing (which I again apologised for), I held my own against the guy who would go on to win the championship throughout the whole race, hounding him after a safety car period and had it not been for one in-game penalty which I got in a very careless manner, I would have won!

Image courtesy of Formula 1 2020 gameplay

My confidence is back and now I’m in PSGL’s F1 2020 tier 11 series full-time driving the McLaren and you can watch me on their YouTube channel every Thursday at 7pm UK time. So far this season, I haven’t had the results to reflect how I feel I’ve performed, as I’ve had some strategic blunders on my side and gotten involved in some clumsy incidents which have sometimes been my fault, sometimes not.

But what matters is, I enjoy it. I’m not trying to become the next F1 Esports champion, I’m not going to be the next Brendon Leigh, David Tonizza or Jarno Opmeer, I’m just a noob who wants to race on a clean, level playing field with some likeminded people.

Like a majority of people who go league racing, it isn’t just those who are the best who spend hours changing setups in-game and obsessively go through time trial trying to nail every corner. I for one don’t try to practice too much so I don’t let it overconsume my life.

Also it’s not all about who has all the best equipment like a top line racing wheel and monitors. I have a Logitech G29 wheel. It’s nowhere near as amazing to use I imagine as the Fanatec made wheels they use in F1 Esports, but you don’t even need a wheel to be good! My teammate in PSGL is called Mark, he’s extremely good and he uses a controller. He embarrasses me every week!

So if you’re sick of open lobbies on racing games, I implore all of you to start seeking for a league that is at your skill level as there is certainly one out there for everyone. I hope more and more leagues accommodate for the casual player, ones who need some driver aids and aren’t particularly savvy in setting up their car.

Regardless if you are the next F1 Esports hopeful or a scrub like me, racing is for everyone.

Who is Jack Aitken?

With Pietro Fittipaldi filling in for Romain Grosjean in the Sakhir Grand Prix, nobody was expecting another change to the grid. However it was Lewis Hamilton’s positive COVID-19 result which meant his Mercedes seat was taken by Williams driver George Russell, whose own seat went to Jack Aitken.

So for those of you who were not aware of Aitken before last weekend, here is all you need to know about the latest British driver to reach F1.

First thing you should know, he’s actually British-Korean. Born to a Scottish father and Korean mother, he began karting in 2006 at Buckmore Park where he won the Summer Challenge club series aged 14 before moving into national and international karting championships.

Aitken made his first move into car racing in 2012. In the BARC Formula Renault winter series he took one win and just missed out on the championship by one point to future British GT champion Seb Morris. His main campaign was the InterSteps Championship, where he would finish third overall having taken 13 podiums across 23 races, two of those being wins.

In 2013 Aitken moved to the Northern European Formula Renault championship and was second to Matt Parry, the previous year’s InterSteps champion. That was followed by a move to the Formula Renault EuroCup for the following year in which he finished seventh in the championship, but it was all building up to what would be Aitken’s best year.

For 2015 Aitken would double up his Formula Renault campaign with assaults on the EuroCup and Alps championships, but to prepare for the season he went over to the States to compete in the Pro Mazda Winterfest. He battled for the championship with Malaysian driver Weiron Tan and pipped him to the title by a single point, which boded well for his dual Formula Renault campaign.

So it did! Moving to the Koiranen GP team that took Nyck de Vries to both the EuroCup and Alps championships the year before, Aitken racked up five wins in the EuroCup and four wins in the Alps series. He capped off his successful season by becoming a member of Renault’s F1 driver academy, and by sealing a drive in the F1-supporting GP3 Series with Arden.

While the 2016 GP3 championship was between now-F1 drivers Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon in the leading ART team, Aitken did very well with a win and fifth in the standings. 2017 looked to be an even better year for Aitken as he took one of the ART seats. However, a new kid arrived who plays a big part in Aitken’s story.

That new kid was George Russell, who moved up from European F3 to take one of the other ART seats. The season was hard fought and ART occupied the first four places in the driver’s championship with Russell, Aitken and their teammates Nirei Fukuzumi and Anthoine Hubert.

However, Russell annihilated Aitken, taking four wins to Aitken’s one and finishing nearly 80 points clear. They both moved up to F2 the following season remaining with ART, but Russell dominated the championship there as well, over the likes of Lando Norris and Albon. Aitken did win the sprint race at Barcelona, but finishing only 11th in the championship coupled with Russell’s success did not do his reputation any good unfortunately.

For 2019, Aitken made the move to the unfancied Campos team. He began to repair some of the damage that had been done, taking the feature race win at Baku, a glorious victory on the Sunday morning of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and a further sprint win at Monza to finish the season fifth.

Jack Aitken, Campos. Image courtesy of FIA Formula 2.

He remained with Campos for 2020 but left the Renault academy, joining Williams as a reserve driver. He was thought to be one of the favourites for the F2 title this year, but the results have not been there for Jack.

However with Russell’s immediate call-up to Mercedes in Sakhir, Aitken’s F1 dream came true. It may have been short-lived, but he immediately made an impression by qualifying less than a tenth from Williams’ other full season driver Nicholas Latifi and outqualifying an F1 world champion in Kimi Räikkönen.

It may be unusual circumstances but Aitken can be pretty pleased with how he did. While it was Russell who starred in his Mercedes debut and nearly came away with a victory, Aitken has certainly done himself a lot of favours with how he performed over the Sakhir Grand Prix weekend.

Sergio Pérez takes maiden victory in astonishing Sakhir GP

What a race! In the jumbled up 2020 calendar that began in July at the Red Bull Ring, the last three races are a triple feast in the Middle East. Beginning with the traditional Bahrain circuit last weekend and ending the season at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi but that middle race would be another one at Bahrain. However it would be on the outer circuit which the F1 cars had been lapping at under a minute all through the weekend.

The lead up to the weekend was already packed with action, as Romain Grosjean’s horror crash from which he thankfully escaped with just a few burns meant that Haas drafted in reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi. Then the huge bombshell dropped that world champion Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19 which meant Mercedes had to go looking for a replacement driver. That turned out to be George Russell who left a vacant seat at Williams, and that ended up being F2 racer Jack Aitken.

F2 driver Jack Aitken stepped in for Mercedes-bound George Russell this weekend – Courtesy of Williams Media

In qualifying, it was Bottas who just pipped Russell to pole by a microscopic margin. Max Verstappen qualified third and Charles Leclerc put in a mighty lap to drag that lacklustre Ferrari to fourth on the grid, and following him were Pérez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Räikkönen, and at the back were Norris and Fittipaldi who had taken grid penalties.

At the start, Russell immediately got away better than Bottas who had to hold off Verstappen’s advances, and struggled to get out the first few corners. His compatriot Räikkönen spun in the back of shot and thankfully no awful imagery to worry about like last week at the same corner. But Bottas’ eyes were on Verstappen, closing the door on him which left an open opportunity for Pérez to go past the Red Bull.

After an intense qualifying, Russell pipped Bottas into the first corner – Courtesy of Mercedes media

But it was Leclerc who got caught out trying to brake for the corner, smacked into the Racing Point and spun him round, leaving Verstappen with nowhere to go but into the wall and retirement along with Leclerc. Somehow, Pérez was able to continue and pitted, benefitting from the subsequent safety car and was able to rejoin the back of the pack in 18th.

At the front, Russell’s massive lead that he got at the start was eliminated, but he wasn’t done. The safety car period ended on lap six and Russell eased off whilst Bottas was under pressure from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who rose to third amid the first lap chaos. He went around the outside of Bottas into turn one, but going through the turn two and three complex, Sainz ran wide and that allowed the Merc right back through.

Whilst Russell was experiencing what it’s like to be in the lead in an F1 car, further down the order were two of his mates, Lando Norris and Alex Albon. Lap 20 and Albon made a move stick on Norris, who was then immediately overtaken by Pérez despite the Mexican being spun on the first lap. The following lap, Albon was then passed by Pérez at the same corner.

Back at the front with Russell, he already had a gap of over a second before the DRS was enabled. The Mercs began gapping Sainz, and it was a steady lead Russell held over Bottas which fluctuated as they negotiated lapped traffic. He extended that lead after he pitted, undercutting Bottas after he was left out for a further four laps, and the gap went to the highest it had been all race even in spite of a sensor scare.

Russell’s typical Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi pulled off and caused a Virtual Safety Car, and not much changed other than Bottas swiped into Russell’s lead. But Pérez was continuing his charge through the field, putting a move on teammate Lance Stroll going into turn four and then the following lap, on former Force India teammate Esteban Ocon. The Mexican was absolutely flying out there. He was now on course for a podium finish with his strategy completely played out.

However, Russell’s replacement at Williams Jack Aitken lost the car coming out of the last corner and clattered the tyre barrier, leaving his front wing on the track and he dove for the pits. A Virtual Safety Car was initially called, but that became a full Safety Car, and Mercedes felt the need to cover off Pérez. But man, did they mess up.

The two Mercs double stacked, Russell came in and they put on the tyres, all well and good. Then Bottas came in and there seemed to be some hesitation, and they sent him back out on the same tyres he pitted with, which was a bit odd as to why they did that. Then it became very apparent. Russell had been sent out on tyres which were intended for Bottas, so now he was bunched up behind the safety car with Pérez, Ocon and Stroll behind him and he was called back to the pits to change the tyres.

This was a huge mess-up on Mercedes’ part. Russell came back out in fifth behind Bottas who remained on his old set, but looked to have the best tyres out of everyone in the top five. Racing resumed and Russell was a man on a mission, making quick work of his teammate on the old set of tyres pulling off an immense outside move going through the long turn six, then passing Stroll and Ocon with the help of DRS. He then set to work catching Pérez who was a long way up the road.

Russell was eating into Pérez’s advantage lap after lap but yet again, disaster. Russell was called back to the pits AGAIN as he had a slow puncture and they put him on softs, whilst the other Mercedes of Bottas just went backwards as he was overtaken by Sainz, Ricciardo and Albon in very quick succession.

But up at the front, a man who for some reason doesn’t have a drive in 2021 guaranteed. Sergio Pérez took an incredible first win for both himself, and the team that he’s leaving after next week’s season finale. Esteban Ocon took second ahead of Lance Stroll, then it was Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat had also passed Bottas in the closing stages, Russell recovered to ninth ahead of Norris who scored the last point.

Russell finally got his long awaited first points finish as well as another for fastest lap, although it was little consolation for what was throughout the entire race looking set to be an incredible first win for the guy. He did absolutely incredibly all weekend, and it definitely will not be the last we hear from Russell, who may get a second stab at the cherry this weekend in Abu Dhabi providing Hamilton isn’t well enough to participate.

Esteban Ocon earned a thoroughly-well deserved podium – Courtesy of Renault Media

But it was Pérez who after 190 starts, finally took victory and became the first Mexican to win an F1 Grand Prix in 50 years. A win that was perhaps long overdue, especially if we harken back to Malaysia 2012 when he came very close in his Sauber to denying Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a win that day. But better late than never, and hopefully Pérez is not out of F1 for long.